Passing it on

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It was over a pleasant cup of coffee at a pie shop just down the street from our southern California office. The 40-something entrepreneur and I were talking about his kids—two teenage daughters, another daughter a year or two behind, and now, two adopted sons, ages four and six. He and his wife are successful by any standards: she is an MD, and he owns a chain of franchises in several states. But he was concerned with the legacy he would leave their children. “I want them to understand how they have been blessed, to live with a sense of gratitude. I want them to know that the privilege of their lives means they have to give back.” He and his wife have begun to incorporate “giving back” into everything they teach their children. Some are small lessons; some quite large. Next summer, he and his oldest daughter and a friend or two will travel to Brazil to spend a week with Hope’s kids. Blessing as they are blessed.

I’m seeing more and more of this focus on “giving back.” A young mother helping her three-year-old go through his stuffed animals to choose some to give to children who have none. Whole families giving a week of their summer vacation to help repair homes in Appalachia. A youth minister leading a fasting and prayer weekend for a small group of really committed kids, and then having them donate the equivalent of what they would have eaten to the local food pantry. More and more young children coming along on church-wide mission trips to our City of Youth.

I have spent much of my professional life concerned about the next generation of giving. All the numbers show that people under 50 are not giving back like previous generations have — but it’s not a function of age. Today’s “older Americans” have always been givers; in their 20s, their 30s, and their 40s. They did not turn 50 or 60 and suddenly start to give. Those under 50, if you look at the numbers, have never been givers. For all the claims about “social awareness,” the rhetoric has never translated into monetary commitment to those in need.

The fault, of course, lies in those who choose not to give, but it also falls at the feet of those in my generation who have not passed on a legacy of giving. As a rule, we have not taught the next generation to give.

But I sense a change. No hard numbers, mind you. But constantly, consistently, I am seeing mothers, fathers, youth ministers, pastors, teachers, consciously instilling the values of true religion: “to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

The blessed … beginning to take responsibility for passing on the blessing. I could not be more pleased.

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